Vetting bill hits buffers

Child protection proposals may run aground over fears we are creating a risk-averse society

the education committee of the Scottish Parliament has called for a delay in the passage of the latest child protection bill, to allow for more detailed consultation with the parties affected.

MSPs want further work done on who should be covered by new vetting and barring regulations.

They appear to have been persuaded by arguments that rules - which, for example, might require disclosure checks for a parent helping out at the school disco - are over-zealous and will ultimately restrict children's activities.

The committee's report, published yesterday (Thursday), advises that the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill should not proceed to stage two until all subordinate guidance and legislation has been consulted upon.

Iain Smith, convener of the committee, warned that, if the executive acceded to its proposals, there would not be time for the bill to become law in the current Parliament. But he saw no reason why a delay for consultation should affect the ultimate implementation of the legislation.

"The existing scheme is still in place, so there is no additional risk to children," he said.

The bill, which has been christened the Bichard Bill because it was sparked by recommendations in the Bichard Report following the Soham murders by school caretaker Ian Huntley, has been criticised by the voluntary sector for the likely cost of retrospective checks, and for concerns that it would discourage volunteers.

Mr Smith said the committee was also concerned about the lack of consultation over part three of the bill - the section that proposes to remove the common law right of children to expect an appropriate degree of confidentiality and which seeks to replace this with a duty on professionals to disclose a wide range of information without first seeking consent.

"The committee felt that part should not proceed at all," Mr Smith said.

"It changes existing practice - which states that health authorities, police etc. should share information if they need to do so for child protection - to a duty, without defining that duty.

"That might have the perverse effect of harming children's welfare. For instance, a child indulging in sexual activities or drug-taking might be deterred from speaking to a doctor."

Mr Smith suggested that these provisions should be transferred to the draft Children's Services (Scotland) Bill, which seeks to reform children's hearings. This would allow for more consultation.

He added that the committee had taken on board concerns about creating a "risk-averse society" - crystallised by Children's Commissioner Kathleen Marshall, when she gave evidence.

Mr Smith cited the example of a child falling off his bike, when a male adult might think twice before going to his aid for fear of being accused of ulterior motives.

"We have to get away from the idea that everyone is a child molester unless proved beyond doubt," he said.

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